5 Outdated Pieces of Career Advice You Should Probably Ignore

Pete Ross


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1. Don’t get involved in office politics

Dear god, this is some clueless advice right here. Office politics are everything when it comes to success in the corporate, military and even academic world. Anyone that tells you otherwise is hopelessly naive or flat out lying to you. That doesn’t mean you should involve yourself in office gossip mind you — because gossip and politics are two different things. One is essential, the other is playing with fire.

Getting involved in office politics is essential because in the real world people don’t get promotions and opportunities for having the most skill or the best work ethic. They get them because they’re good enough, but more importantly, because they know how to talk to people, say the right things and make it seem as though they’re making important things happen. They know how to get along with everyone and most importantly, how to keep people interested in what they’re doing.

Hard work is never enough, because perception is reality when it comes to other people’s opinions of you. Office politics isn’t about acting like Frank Underwood and always scheming, it’s really just ensuring you don’t fly under the radar too much, that you get your face and presence out there and people recognise the value you’re adding.

2. Dress plainly for an interview

This one must come from the book of “just an opinion with no actual facts behind it.” I’ve seen this everywhere when it comes to job interview tips and in my experience, it’s just a great big bunch of crap. The whole thinking goes that you don’t want to draw any attention to yourself or your appearance, you want them thinking about your achievements and suitability for the role.

That’s a nice little theory, but in the real world it doesn’t hold up.

It doesn’t hold up because people hire people — not a set of skills and achievements. You need to actually show them who you are for that to happen, otherwise you’re just another guy (or gal) in a nondescript suit. Now, I’m not saying you should be wearing something loud or inappropriate, but if you’re wearing a dark suit with a white shirt and dark tie, you come across the same as everyone else who is scared to be who they are.

I’ve had the most success in opportunities dressing the way I like. I’ve actually done the opposite of the advice — wearing a checked instead of plain shirt and a bold, striped red, white and blue tie instead of a muted, plain dark one. I’ve even worn a windowpane check suit to an interview and still done well. You want them to see you in the interview, not a mannequin.

If you lose the opportunity because they either didn’t like you personally or your appearance, then why would you want to work there anyway? The reality is, if they’re that nitpicky to reject you because you wore a bolder tie than they would have liked, it wasn’t the tie that was the problem anyway.

Caveat: this of course doesn’t apply for law, accounting or consulting firms, who are always ultra conservative and where dressing that way shows you understand how to play the game.

3. Leaving a job on good terms

Look, I’m not saying that you should be torching the place as you walk out the door or even doing the commonly fantasised “walk in” a la George Costanza, where you tell your boss exactly what you think, but this notion that you have to go out of your way to be nice and uber professional when you resign is nothing but gaslighting.

Everyone is so quick to tell you not to burn bridges, because you might need them as a reference or even worse, you might have to go crawling back for your old job. You apparently need to be scared to death that someone at your current workplace could ruin your career. You need to be the “bigger person.” Let’s kill both of those right now:

  • You never use your current boss as a reference when you’re going for a new job anyway.
  • If a job or the conditions are bad enough that you don’t want to leave on good terms, then why the hell would you want to go back anyway?

Here’s the thing, if you’re leaving a job because you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, or you’ve been underpaid, or you’ve been passed over for promotion multiple times, or you’ve been screwed over by your boss, then quite frankly, you don’t owe them anything. Give them the bare minimum in terms of notice, effort and anything else.

I actually read an article where it said you should resign in person because it’s the right thing to do. What is this, a break up? Why does my boss deserve to get treated better than I do in the situation? Are they somehow going to magically realise they’ve been a jerk because I’ve been the “bigger person?” Not bloody likely.

So while I certainly would never advocate making a scene, being rude or indulging in destructive behaviour, nor would I say that you have to be Mr/s Accommodating either.

4. Making life easy for your boss

I’ve seen this advice for literally decades now. The way to get ahead is to take things off your boss’s plate. Don’t go to them with problems, go to them with solutions. Prove yourself. Show how valuable you are. Do you know in reality what most bosses will do when you make life easy for them?

They’ll say thank you very much, and keep right on trucking.

What, you thought you were going to get a promotion, raise and opportunities just because you make your boss’s life easy? Why would you think that? Most bosses will just let you grind yourself to dust, and then discard you when you burn out. So rather than falling all over yourself trying to take on extra work and responsibility for someone, stop and ask yourself a really important question instead:

What is my boss willing to do for me?

For many of you, I bet seeing that question was like getting a cold slap across the face, because you’ve suddenly realised that the answer is something along the lines of jack. I’ll admit that the first time I heard that question, my mind was blown — I’d never once considered what my boss would do for me.

If your boss is one of those great people who is always putting you up for promotion, giving you development opportunities and so on, then absolutely strap in and ride that rocket as high as it will go. If, on the other hand, nothing ever seems good enough, if you keep doing everything you can for your boss and you only get the smallest reciprocation, it’s time to take that effort elsewhere.

5. That you need work/life balance

This is a super outdated concept, because it assumes everyone is the same. It assumes we all dislike work and love life, so we have to find some balance that minimises the former and maximises the latter. It’s just not true. Some people are happy workaholics who find their ideal career and just want to work all the time. Some are the exact opposite and only tolerate the bare minimum of work to get by. Most of us end up somewhere in the middle.

What you really want to do is maximise what you enjoy doing and minimise what you don’t. If you work a job where you despise 90% of your responsibilities, you’re never going to feel like you have the right balance. If it’s the opposite and you’re Elon Musk, you’ll sleep on the factory floor and be happy for it.

So rather than trying to find some elusive balance between your work and your life, find a job where you like most of what you do — enough that you can get absorbed in your work and not be watching the clock all the time. If you can do that, you won’t be itching to get out of there all the time and you won’t feel the need to balance it out with “life,” whatever that is.

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I write about career, performance, psychology, self development and business humour. I'm an author, former national competitor in judo and strongman and a former military instructor.


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